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Mor Thiam

Last Updated: 10/11/2006 8:12:20 AM

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Arguably Africa’s greatest percussionist, Mor Thiam was born to beat the drums.....


Master Percussionist, Mor Thiam
Master Percussionist, Mor Thiam

Mor Thiam was born in Dakar, Senegal to a family of historians from the Dagon tribe, who sued drums to tell their stories of the Wollof people in Senegal. Incidentally his surname, Thiam, means “historian” in his native tongue. He started playing the drums from an early age and professionally from the age of 12.

He perfected his skills, learning to play various African drums including the tama, sabar and djembe. His percussion skills got the attention of noted choreographer Katherine Dunham who invited Thiam to join her dance company in the United States as its composer-in-residence. An invite he accepted and the move also provided Thiam with not only the opportunity to head the percussion department of Southern Illinois University but link up with some of the major American modernists.

He eventually settled in St. Louis, where he not only worked with Dunham, but with many Jazz and Blues greats, including Freddie Hubbard, Nancy Wilson, B.B. King and Lester Bowie. He performed with trumpeter Hubbard in 1973 and 1974, and recorded his first album in 1974, titled N’dedi Safarra with B.B. King and Nancy Wilson in benefit of the victims of the African drought that year.

Thiam also performed and recorded with members of the St. Louis based Black Artists Group, whose roll call included Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake, the founders of the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ). Through the WSQ, Thiam would meet pianist Don Pullen, who included him in his African Brazilian Connection sextet, alongside legendary Brazilian percussionist Guilherme Franco.

The African Brazilian Connection would go on to produce four critically acclaimed albums including a project with indigenous Americans from Montana's Salish-Kootenai Reservation. However it was not until 1999 that Thiam would produce one of his best, if not the best work of his career, the Back To Africa. Recorded in back home in Dakar, Sengeal, Thiam gathered some of the finest musicians in Senegal to produce an outstanding collection of sings that were inspired by sounds of Senegal, Gambia, Mali, the Ivory Coast Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Thiam now tours worldwide and acts a consultant to numerous projects including the successful and multi-award winning Broadway show, The Lion King, and the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta. He also serves as the executive director is the Stone Mountain, Georgia-based Institute for the Study of African Culture.

He currently resides between his Atlanta and Dakar, Senegal base, and is father to R&B star Aliaune Thiam, more popularly known as Akon.


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